About Jim Bamboulis
Jim Bamboulis has held several posts over the past 12 years, including National Sportscaster, Food Host and Writer, Talk Show Host, Olympic Researcher and Travel Film-maker.
Born and raised in Toronto, Jim learned early on that the combination of travel and food meant ultimate living. Combining his insatiable creative spirit and desire to document his travels, Jim took his unshakable travel bug and set off to explore. Add the fact that Jim also grew up in a Greek household and he learned that not only does Mom always make the best meals, but as importantly learned the importance of understanding and appreciating the countless beautiful cultures and the integral role food plays in every corner of the World.
In August 2009, Jim founded Travel Mammal, a site that brings together his travels and experiences (both good and terrifying) with the hope that others are inspired to share their own. We are all storytellers, especially when it comes to travel and food. He urges everyone to be inspired, explore and love the world and the people that share it with us. Or in other words, Live to Travel and travel to live!
Latest Posts by Jim Bamboulis
Are you hungry for a NEW weekend getaway from Toronto this summer? Here are 5 more road trip experiences around Southern Ontario that you should take while the weather is hot!
There’s no doubt about it, having a travel companion has many benefits. But, have you ever been on a trip with someone and wished that you traveled alone instead? It’s common. That’s why there’s travel compatibility tests. Before you take that trip together, you can test whether you’ll gel together. Might save you some agony. Personalities and travel styles clash all the time leading to big time fights and even broken friendships.
And then there’s couples’ travel. Traveling can strengthen long-term relationships or break them up. Take the Amazing Race for example. Someone decided that a fan page dedicated to listing the breakups associated with the show was worth creating.
Enter Bill Murray.
Remember this from a couple of years ago? Bill crashed a bachelor party and gave the groom-to-be a piece of advice that is bang on truth. The beauty is that it applies to everyone who plans on being together. This is both marriage and travel advice.
So what about solo travel? Sure, it’s not for everyone and for many it’s not easy. Fear is a huge factor and cripples a lot of people from going it alone. But, the fact is, no matter who you are and where you’re from, there’s a case to be made about its benefits.
It’s not as scary as you might think. Of course, where you choose to go is your business but some organizations have even come up with a list of countries where solo travellers are expected to have a better overall experience. Regardless of where you decide to go, here are my five reasons why I love to travel solo. Hopefully, these motivate you to take that long-awaited trip and do it your way.
That’s a hard concept for many to understand much less execute. It’s not easy letting go and most of us can’t get our heads around doing things only for ourselves, by ourselves. Solo travel allows me to do whatever I want, as often as I want and for as long as I want to do it. The only person that you have to answer to is yourself. It’s a very liberating feeling without the need to compromise. Your trip, your time, your adventure!
And because it’s your adventure, you don’t have to deal with anyone trying to interfere with or even sabotage your plans (or non-plans). I’ve seen it over and over again. Something so insignificant happens and an argument breaks out. Feelings are hurt and you waste valuable time trying to fix a fight than enjoy your trip.
The above shot was taken at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland and I stayed here for 6 hours. Just because. By traveling alone, I avoid all of that drama/vacation kill. I’m enjoying my experiences, seeing what I want and having the chance to meet new people. And, you will definitely meet new and exciting people.
Meet New People
I know, it’s not easy being social, especially in a foreign country. But you’d be surprised how many amazing people are out there just open and willing to share a drink, a conversation and especially a travel story with you.
Think about it. Everyday, people around the world wake up, commute to a job they probably hate, deal with people they probably hate more, go to meetings they despise and then commute back home. That’s life. There’s little time to go out, much less have a spontaneous and exciting conversation with someone new.
It’s not about hooking up guys, it’s about human connection. It’s amazing what happens when you let go and allow yourself to have a good time with total strangers.
Time is Tickin’
The one thing that gets me eager to book a trip is watching old music videos. I’ll watch a Duran Duran video and think how young I was when it came out and yet it feels like yesterday. Is time really going that fast?
The answer is yes.
It’s understandable if you’ve got a deal ironed out with your partner that you only travel together no matter what. Or you’ve got major family responsibilities, an elderly parent you’re taking care of or kids of course.
But If you’re always trying to coordinate schedules and feel that you’ve waited long enough, then maybe it’s time for you to go it alone. If you have the time and a bit of cash, then seize the day. Book the flight, get on the train, rent that car, it doesn’t matter. Take advantage and take that long-awaited trip you’ve always wanted to take. You won’t regret it. In fact, you’ll thank yourself for making the most of your time.
Learn More About YOU!
To me, it’s all about perspective. You can look at solo travel as lonely or you can see it as a chance to find out who you are, who you’ve become and what you’re capable of.
This is the opportunity to take the time and really delve deep inside and give yourself a chance to learn more about you.
Scary? Hell ya. And it’s definitely a process. But here’s the thing. Investing in yourself, learning more about you, is the biggest challenge and most rewarding experience you will have. And believe me, if you’re like me, you’ll really surprise yourself to learn that you’re more than just a person who needs that ticket for the morning commute to work.
Everyone is at risk of running into trouble abroad. Based on conversations that I’ve had with female friends of mine, women may have many more hesitations about traveling alone for many reasons, including and especially safety, a legitimate concern. But as you know, there are many resources and helpful tips that will put your mind at ease.
If you’re almost at that tipping point and have decided that it’s time to finally take that trip, take inspiration from other women that have been there, done that and have used their experiences to inspire others that it not only is possible but it will profoundly change you, hopefully for the better. What are you waiting for?
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain.
When I walk by an ethnic restaurant, I don’t look so much at the food by the window. Instead, I look more at who’s eating it. If I’m in the mood for Chinese food, I want to see Chinese people eating at the Chinese restaurant. If it’s Italian, I want to see Italians. My theory is, if I see locals loving the food, I’ll love the food. That’s when I walk into the restaurant. Otherwise, I skip it.
Same goes with Greek. People ask me all the time where I go for Greek food. And when I tell them, I get this weird, confused look. And I know why.
I don’t frequent the usuals, the ones people seem to go to all the time and I don’t eat at restaurants to be seen. Odds are, I go the ones you’ve probably walked past without a second thought. When I want great Greek food, I go to restaurants where the Chefs understand what makes an exceptional meal, a memorable experience. Restaurants that don’t take any shortcuts and don’t try to sell you something sub par at an inflated price. I hit the good ones and I believe that you should too.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of reputable Greek restaurants in Toronto that fill the void, hit the spot. But I give you the five Greek restaurants that I recommend most every time. Walk by, look at the people eating inside, walk in, get a table. Because these five are consistently filled with Greeks eating delicious Greek food. Let’s go!
The Greek Grill
These guys are 2km north of the main Greek town strip. There’s parking in front but it’s still tough to snag a spot. The Greek Grill is always full and always smoking. Pork, chicken or lamb, prepared all day. Large chunks of meat, marinated and placed on a spit, slow roasted over a charcoal pit. That pit gets turned on just in time for the morning joggers to inhale the meat being smoked. And that includes me.
I run by this place during my morning run. And let me tell you, as a jogger and meat lover, inhaling the seasoned meat during a run not only makes me want to stop and grab a bite but the aroma truly makes me feel nostalgic; like I’m in the heart of a Greek village in mid-summer. And that says it all.
Of course, the menu is not just about pork, chicken and lamb. If you love seafood, the grilled calamari is a must. It’s phenomenal. Seasoned and grilled to perfection, just squeeze some lemon on top and you’re good to go.
Located just off the main Greek town strip, the Florida is my kind of place. Family run, traditional, old world style. Eating here feels homely. Everyone here tries to build a personal relationship with you. This isn’t the type of restaurant where you’re treated like a number or just another casual passerby diner.
You don’t eat meat? Ok, try the lamb. The Florida has by far some of the best fresh, traditionally seasoned rotisserie lamb in Toronto. In fact, it’s the specialty here.
This place is right smack in the middle of Greek town and yet many often walk right past it without realizing that they just walked by one of the best. But if you know about it, it’s a go-to spot time and again.
The Owner, Lambro, is a mild-mannered gentleman who’s quick to offer his suggestions and cater to your hungry needs. Avli Restaurant is known for many things including the lamb shank, which is arguably one of the most popular items.
If you prefer seafood, get the octopus. In fact, Lambro will make it very clear the precision it takes to select the best quality octopus and how his separates him from all the rest. He’s not kidding, the octopus here is ridiculous. Marinated and grilled to perfection.
Call ahead, get a table on the weekend and listen to live bouzouki music. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself getting up and dancing with a room full of strangers by the time you finish your ouzo.
There was a time when the downtown Toronto Greek restaurant scene served up your typical, expected Canadianized Greek grub where chicken skewers and lemon potatoes filled lunchtime hunger voids.
Scallops – Photo courtesy – Estiatorio Volos
Then Volos opened and it not only changed the game but it gave people in the core a better idea of what modern Greek food looks and tastes like. Volos offers a more refined dining experience where the decor is striking and the food is spectacular. Of course, you pay a bit more for the quality but in my opinion, it’s worth the extra few bucks.
Volos Spetzofai – Photo courtesy – Estiatorio Volos
From seared halibut and scallops to grilled mediterranean sea bass and red snapper, these guys do seafood really well. My consistent go-to’s include the Volos Spetzofai (spicy lamb sausage, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, mint) and the Stuffed Cornish Hen with figs, pecans, and whipped feta potato. Top it off with the Ouzo Chocolate Mousse and you might actually want fight the traffic and look for a parking spot only to have the chance to keep eating here.
Transport yourself to Greece for an hour. Chat with the Chef in his kitchen and pick your meal. Sit down and enjoy the experience of eating in a truly relaxed Greek environment, surrounded by animated conversation in a family taverna atmosphere.
That’s Athens Restaurant.
This small family run spot has been rated tops by Greeks for years. But the reason why so many don’t know about it, is because it’s east of Pape Avenue. It turns out that yes, there IS life east of Pape.
No menus. That’s right, no menus. So how do you know what to eat? How do you know what you’re paying? Both valid questions. Here’s how it works. Greeted and seated, you’re invited into the kitchen to meet and speak with the Chefs. Conversation is instantly sparked and you meet the good people who’ve cooked your meal. Then you hand-pick exactly what you want to eat and how much. 10 minutes later, you’re served.
Now that’s as traditional Greek as it gets. I don’t know of any other restaurant in Toronto so transparent as to let customers into the kitchen, meet and greet the Staff and pick their plates.
I always start with a Greek Village Salad and go from there. It’s hard for me to tell you what else to get because the selection changes daily. Along with veggie options, there almost always seems to be a fairly wide selection of seafood, chicken, beef, lamb dishes as well as stuffed peppers and tomatoes ready to go.
Come to Athens and experience what it’s like to sit at a table, break bread and eat as if you were back in the old country. It’s an experience you’ll want to keep coming back to. And don’t worry, the bill won’t be as hefty as you think. In fact, it will make you smile. Quality dishes, incredible value!
Did I miss one? Did I miss two? Do you have a favourite that’s not on this list? Let us know.
I wanted to drive north. I wanted to go to a place I had never been to before. I looked at a map and saw Lagoon City. A coastal town with winding canals? What am I looking at here, Venice? Could this be The Venice of Ontario? Only 1 1/2 hours from Toronto?
I started driving. When I arrived, I was amazed. Lagoon City is one of many towns that make up the township of Ramara. An official Canadian Resort village, it has a small town feel, mixed with a bit of Floridian vibe. Friendly people, beautiful homes and surrounded by water and boats.
Homes here are connected to 10 miles of lagoons which are in turn connected to Lake Simcoe and the Trent River waterway. It makes for an incredible sight and worthy of a walk around the town.
Don’t know anyone living in those homes…but still want to enjoy the water? You’re good, Lagoon City has you covered. There’s a great beach and even a hotel right along the water so you can stay, eat, play and swim all you like.
Of course, there are plenty of spots along all sides of Lake Simcoe to enjoy the outdoors. The water is exceptional in many spots and often very shallow. Lagoon City is one of those places that centres around those who boat and enjoy the ‘dockominium’ type of lifestyle.
For visitors, it’s an amazing side trip, a chance to see a place in Ontario that you may not have experienced before. It’s really very picturesque and worth the trip. This part of Ontario is truly a wonderland when it comes to things to see and do. There are several golf courses, Provincial Parks such as Sibbald Point and Mara, Casino Rama is in the areaand if you love ice cream, you can’t beat Kawartha Dairy, home to some of the best ice cream in Canada.
Up until a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea that there was a National park so close to Toronto. Provincial parks, yes. Several. So when I looked at a map and noticed Georgian Bay Islands, I jumped on the opportunity to experience it myself. In this article, I’ll give you 5 solid reasons why you should experience it for yourselves. Here we go.
Close to Toronto
Yes, I know. Proximity matters. I understand that there’s only so much time in the day and the week. You don’t want to spend that much time in the car, trying to get to where you need to get. Georgian Bay Islands National Park (GBINP) is located about 2 1/2 hours north of Toronto. That may still seem far but when you think about the fact that you’re going to a National park, it should (hopefully) get you excited.
For me, the drive up and what’s around also plays a part. Highway 400 is a bit of a boring highway, I know. But once you get north of Barrie, the scenic drive element of the road trip itself makes it all worthwhile. The landscape becomes that much more rugged, the air that much cleaner.
It’s a National Park
The fact that there’s such a park so close to the big city is truly special. When I think about these types of outdoor gems, my mind usually goes to Jasper, Banff and even Gros Morne. These are some of the more majestic parks Canada has to offer. And although beautiful and definitely worth experiencing, don’t discount the beauty in Toronto’s backyard. You won’t see peaks, glaciers and ocean, but you will see a part of Canada and Canadian Shield that many of us take for granted.
After all, GBINP is right in the middle of the 30,000 island country. It’s home to the world’s largest freshwater archipelago. A small boat takes you either to the north end or south end of Beausoleil Island where you can then take your pick as to what you want to do. Cycle, hike, camp, swim and/or just enjoy the many vistas available. The Group of Seven saw plenty of beauty here and I guarantee that you will too.
Incredible hiking and cycling trails
There are around a dozen trails to explore on both the north and south side of the Beausoleil. I stuck to the northern end and managed to squeeze in 2 trails. Cambrian is a 2km trek that takes you along Little Dog Channel and through deep forest.
The other one was Fairy, a 2.5km loop trail that takes you to Honeymoon Bay and along Fairy Lake. Longer, more challenging hiking and cycling trails are located on the south end. If you don’t have a bike, you can rent one at the Cedar Spring Visitor Centre on the Island.
Affordable cabin life
GBINP is one of those places that comes equipped with fully functioning, all-the-comforts-of-home waterfront cabins. You can rent a cabin at either Cedar Springs orChristian Beach. At Cedar Springs, accommodations for up to 5 people is available. Cabins come with a queen sized bed and a bunk bed. You get washrooms, showers, dining table, sofa, coffee table, a fridge and yes electricity.
Photo courtesy: Parks Canada
Meanwhile the cabins at Christian Beach are a bit more remote, smaller too. They are more for the couple who wants some privacy and distance from everyone and everything. Here, you get a queen size bed, composting toilets close by, limited solar-powered electricity and a dining table with chairs. There’s no running water in the cabins but you get a shared fire pit, a beautiful pebble beach, views of Georgian Bay and you get to experience epic sunsets. Similar to Cedar Springs, pets aren’t allowed.
Photo courtesy: Parks Canada
Chance to see wildlife
If you’re a true lover of the great outdoors, then you love the chance to see some real wildlife. For lightweights like me, seeing a chipmunk is enough to get me rattled and dazzled. There are plenty at GBINP. But if you’re looking for a real up close and personal encounter with, say rattlesnakes then you’re in luck. They’re around at GBINP and from what I understand, they are a rare sight. But nonetheless, look for the sounds and respect their boundaries. Stay safe out there.
Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake on Northern Beausoleil Island.
Photo courtesy: Parks Canada/ Bill Carswell, 1977
There’s also been Black bear sightings on both ends of the park. They tend to avoid humans and generally go for food lying around the picnic areas. Make sure that you store your food and cooking supplies so that you don’t risk coming into contact with these beautiful animals. Respect the park, respect the wildlife and everything should be just fine.
Alana Taylor loves art. She’s especially passionate about Canadian Artists who create incredible pieces. In this article, she shares her 5 art road trip adventures around Southern Ontario that you should take this fall!
How many people know where to go and eat like a local in Ottawa? When most people think of Ottawa, thoughts of beautiful parks, incredible museums, amazing restaurants and of course the historic Parliament buildings come to mind. Here, we highlight some different places that only locals know about and often go to. Places that I personally love to visit when I am back home. Places that you won’t find in most travel guides.
Let’s start with food. I think Ottawa has some of the best poutine restaurants in the country. And that’s thanks to its close proximity to St. Albert and their amazing cheese curds. Honestly, if you’ve never had poutine made with fresh cheese curds from St. Albert you’ve been missing out. Trust me.
I don’t eat poutine often, but when I do my favourite place in the city to indulge in this yummy treat is Fritomania (map). Don’t be fooled by the humble appearance (it is a little chip wagon located in Ottawa’s east end). It is hands down the best poutine I have ever tried. The mix of homemade fries, the most delicious gravy and St. Albert’s cheese curds is absolutely delicious. It’s definitely worth the trip to the wagon.
Canadian Museum of Nature
Ottawa has so many incredible museums that you could spend a week exploring them all. My go-to is the Canadian Museum of Nature. As children we always referred to it as the “dinosaur museum” because one of their permanent exhibits is all about dinosaurs. I loved it as a child and I still love it as an adult.
A National Historic Site of Canada, the building itself is a 100-year-old awe-inspiring castle (map). On the inside, it’s a perfect mix of historic and modern design. I owned an event planning company for many years and this was one of my favourite places to hold events because it is such a stunning and unique setting. In the last few years they’ve started hosting monthly events between September and May called Nature Nocturne, which has become one of the best dance parties in the city.
Imagine having a drink, eating and dancing in the middle of one of the coolest museums. Definitely an awesome night out in Ottawa!
Pasticceria Gelateria Italiana
I absolutely love bakeries. My favourite in Ottawa is Pasticceria Gelateria Italiana. Locals know it as “Joe’s Place”.
Joe is the Owner and Chef of the bakery. He’s an amazing and extremely talented guy. When I was doing weddings and events full-time, I always recommended him to my clients. His cakes are incredibly creative and delicious!
Located in the heart of Little Italy (map), I always drop by when I am in the city to pick up some pastries for my family and have a cappuccino. If you love bakeries as much as I do, you definitely want to make a stop here while you are in the city.
Ottawa has many beautiful parks. One of my favourites is located just minutes from the heart of downtown (map). Strathcona Park is smaller than a lot of the parks in the city (only 15 acres) but it is one of the most serene and beautiful places. I use to love going and spending an hour or two just sitting by the beautiful Rideau River which stretches the length of the park or read a book under one of the many willow trees.
This park features a gorgeous fountain at the top of a hill that was donated by Lord Strathcona in 1909. Great for families, there’s also a play structure that is made to look like ancient ruins, a sandbox and benches throughout. In the summer, Strathcona is home to Theatre Under the Stars by Odyssey Theatre, which is always a magical experience. In the fall, it turns into a colourful oasis.
Want to indulge with an amazing spa experience? You got it.
Located about 10 minutes from downtown you find Nordik Spa-Nature, the largest spa in North America. One of my favourite places, I consider it a personal piece of heaven on earth (map). I can spend an entire day relaxing and unwinding in their outdoor baths and incredible saunas. There’s also an infinity pool with a stunning view and a fantastic restaurant.
What makes this spa so unique is their Thermal Cycle process, which is a practice of alternating between hot and cold. You start with a hot sauna, which helps to release toxins from your body, followed immediately by going into cold water, which helps to close your pores. Then you let your body rest until it comes back to its normal temperature. You just keep repeating this cycle throughout the day and by the end you are so relaxed that your body feels like jello. You will feel like a new person after a day here. It’s definitely worth a visit when in Ottawa.
Canada’s capital and surrounding region is really quite stunning no matter what the season. Take advantage of the beauty in your own backyard. These 5 spots will definitely kick-start your amazing Ottawa experience.
By: Guest Writer Cristie Vito
No matter what time of year you decide to pack up the car and take a road trip, there’s always a place to explore in Ontario that’s worth the trip. One of those great spots is Elora. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure or a serene and charming small town feel, you’ll find both in Elora, definitely one of the most beautiful towns in Ontario.
Elora is a small town only about an hour and a half west of Toronto. And yet, it feels like you’re in another world far away from the big city. It’s loaded with a thriving arts and culture scene, rich history, boutiques and restaurants along the river’s edge.
The Elora Mill is Ontario’s only remaining five-story mill. It has gone through a massive renovation over the past few years with the plan being to transform it into an inn and restaurant. Adjacent is Elora’s Tooth of Time, the Islet Rock that divides the powerful waters of the Grand River as they go down the Gorge.
If you’re more of an adventure seeker, then Elora will keep you wanting more time to do more stuff.
For cyclists, hikers and walkers, hit a portion of the Trans-Canada Trail which connects with the 47km long Elora Cataract Trail. The trails take you through some incredible terrain and scenery, including a descent down the gorge and to the river’s shore.
The Elora Gorge itself and the activities you can enjoy is arguably the biggest draw to this region. The limestone cliffs are more than 70 feet high and stand tall along the Grand and Irvine Rivers. Here you’ll find everything from kayakers, tubers and swimmers. If you want to get up and see it all from above, there are several hot air balloon as well as zip line companies in the area. If you prefer to stay on the ground, then take your pick as to what activity you want to do.
And then there’s the Elora Quarry, also known as the “old swimming hole”. This is a 2 acre former limestone quarry surrounded by 40 foot cliffs. A stunning backdrop and a really cool place to swim.
Beautiful, close to Toronto and plenty to see and do. Elora is a great getaway any time of year.
Did we miss something that you feel we should have included? Let us know in the comment box below.